Genbo (玄ボウ)

Genbo (date of birth unknown - July 15, 746) was a priest of the Hosso sect of Buddhism, who lived in the Nara period. His secular surname was Ato. He was the son of ATO no Akafu.

Brief Personal History

He studied under Gien. He accompanied kento-shi (Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China) as a scholar monk where he learnt about the Hosso sect from Chishu during his 18 year sojourn in China. His talents were recognized by the Chinese emperor of that time, Xuan Zong, and as an Imperial gift, a purple kesa (Buddhist stole) was granted according to his rank, Sanbon (third rank). Approximately 20 years later, by following the next kento-shi, he returned to Japan with the complete Buddhist scriptures of 5,000 scrolls of Kyoron (sutra repository and Abhidhamma-pitaka). He was given fuko (a vassal household allotted to courtier, shrines and temples). In the following year of 737, he was appointed as a high priest and entered a naidojo (palace chapel, the space of which was reserved particularly for esoteric rituals and in which Buddhist sculptures were installed and religious services performed), where his prayers for FUJIWARA no Miyako (mother of Emperor Shomu) resulted in her recovery and a reward granted to him for that.

He enjoyed the deep confidence of Emperor Shomu and, together with KIBI no Makibi, was promoted for his contribution to the administration of TACHIBANA no Moroe, but people were critical of his personality, and in 740, Fujiwara no Hirotsugu mobilized troops in Kyushu for the ouster of Genbo, albeit unsuccessfully (the Rebellion of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu). In the following year of 741, he transcribed the Senju-kyo sutra of 1,000 scrolls by hand as a Buddhist rite. However, with Fujiwara no Nakamaro's increased influence, he was demoted, in 745, to become betto (head) of Chikushi Kanzeon-ji Temple, his fubutsu (products of the fuko) were confiscated, and in the following year of 746, he passed away at his post.


There are many bizarre anecdotes about Genbo. Firstly, there is an obituary that appears in "Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicles of Japan), showing that he died because the ghost of Fujiwara no Hirotsugu holding a grudge against him killed him.

In a book written by posterity, the story takes an unthinkable twist.

In the book "Genko shakusho" (History of Buddhism of the Genko Era) there are reports that a hand reached down from the heavens and snatched Genbo away and the next day just his head fell to earth at Kofuku-ji Temple, this being due to the ghost of Hirotsugu.

The "Genko shakusho" indicates that '[Genbo] associated with Fujimuro (or Toshitsu)' (i.e. he had relations with a married lady of the Fujiwara clan), which is thought to refer to FUJIWARA no Miyako. Likewise, there is a mention of Genbo's adultery with Miyako in "Kofukuji ruki" (records of the Kofuku-ji Temple), "Nihon genho zenaku ryoiki" (a set of three books of Buddhist stories, written in the late 8th and early 9th century, usually referred to as the "Nihon Ryoiki"), the "Shichidaiji nenpyo" (literally, Chronicle of the Seven Temples) and "Fuso ryakki" (A Short History of Japan).

In "Konjaku monogatarishu" (The Konjaku Tales, which literally means the tales from the present and the past, referring to a 31-volume collection of stories written during the late Heian period) and "Genpei seisuiki" (Rise and Fall of the Genji and the Heike), he apparently had an adulterous relationship with Empress Komyo which led to Hirotsugu finding fault and was the underlying cause of the rebellion.

Of course, in either case these historical records written by posterity are inevitably of dubious credence. There is evidence of Genbo confused with Dokyo who is believed to have been a sinful monk from earlier on. However, based on the fact that the "Nihon Ryoiki" includes early accounts of adultery, it is clear that some were jealous of Genbo's fame. Also, there were those who speculated over a relationship with Miyako and in addition, there were those who believed in a link between Genbo's downfall and death with Hirotsugu's revengeful ghost.